Heshima Kenya

Heshima Kenya is a 501(c)(3) US nonprofit and registered Kenyan charity based in Nairobi, Kenya. Heshima is the Swahili word for "respect" and we specialize in identifying and protecting separated and orphaned refugee children and youth living in Nairobi. Our innovative shelter, education and community outreach services enable and empower unaccompanied refugee children, especially adolescent girls, to live healthy lives.
Jul 28, 2010

Journey to Self-Sufficiency

Scarves at the Market!
Scarves at the Market!

In our last report, we mentioned that Heshima Kenya had launched the Maisha Collective as the final transitional component of the Girl’s Empowerment Project. In just a few months, five graduates of our tailoring program have joined the Collective and have made hundreds of beautiful, unique, handmade tie & dye scarves. Members have also begun selling their scarves at a local Maasai Market in Nairobi and a store that promotes local Kenyan artisans and crafts. In addition to honing their scarf-making skills, members meet weekly to discuss important business and financial issues such as budgeting, wage payments, savings, and investing in the future of the Collective. I was impressed to learn that they had all agreed to use some of the money earned from selling their scarves to pay for childcare, as 4 out of the 5 Maisha members have small children that they must care for while working full-time.

In addition to the important skills gained in participating in the Maisha Collective, 15 girls from Heshima Kenya’s Girl’s Empowerment Program (including the Maisha members) have been meeting every Saturday morning for financial literacy trainings. Each training has been focused on different aspects of financial literacy ranging from budgeting to short term & long term savings plans. These trainings will help prepare all participants for their future independence.

Several girls at Heshima Kenya also created the most recent issue of Midnimo, where they explored what it means to be a leader and examined the important leaders in their lives. One girl, Zulekha Juma, a 15 year old refugee from Somalia, wrote beautifully about her mother, saying, “My mom is a good leader and she brought me to this world. Unfortunately, we are separated. She is good because she judges cases fairly and is kind to everyone… She has inspired me with many things like showing love to other people and helping those in need.” Other leaders that the authors wrote about included political figures, family members, and even our own Anne Sweeney and Talyn Good!

As we have said before, participants in the Girl’s Empowerment Project struggle daily with learning challenges, feelings of trauma and insecurity, and remembering a tumultuous past. Recognizing the daily stresses of these girls’ lives, we decided that it was important to give them mechanisms to deal with their stress. In addition to the one-on-one counseling that every girl receives at Heshima Kenya, we also had two life-skills trainings on stress management that focused on breathing exercises and practicing stress-release outlets such as writing and drawing. In addition, Heshima Kenya decided it was high time to take the girls out and have a little fun, so we planned an exciting trip for all of the GEP participants to visit the Giraffe Center at Nairobi National Park. The girls had a wonderful time learning about Rothchild giraffes and feeding them food pellets, but what was most important was that they got a chance to bond together and get their mind off of some of their daily challenges.

And to learn more about Heshima Kenya, you can now visit our new blog! Go to heshimakenya.wordpress.com to hear from our volunteers and interns about their observations and experiences at Heshima Kenya. And please feel free to post your comments!

Without your support, none of what we mentioned above would be possible, so from the bottom of our hearts we thank you and look forward to sharing more of Heshima Kenya with you!

Jul 7, 2010

Finding Solace

This month we have housed 37 residents in our safe house, including 23 young women and 14 children. We still need your support to keep providing a secure and peaceful place for our young women and their children. Two months ago, we reached our capacity and now there is a waiting list.

A recent arrival is Faith, who is 17 years old and lost her parents during the war in Sudan, when she was young. For several years, she bounced around to different protection units in the refugee camps. In the last year, when Faith received continuous threats of forced marriage from men in the camps, she decided to sell all of her belongings and came to Nairobi. Faith was supported by Heshima Kenya after living with a Sudanese-Rwandese family for couple months. Now that she has a safe and stable place to live she is actively engaging in our other education and case management programs.

For these young women, our safe house is a peaceful and safe space where they can dream and rebuild their lives. By donating to the Safe House Project, you are not just providing for their basic needs - shelter and food; you are giving them the security that has been taken away from them.

Thank you for your continued support!

Apr 21, 2010

The Power of Resilience

Girls
Girls' writing articles for their newsletter

The Girl’s Empowerment Project tells a diverse story of poverty, war, hope and peace. These girls and young women make their way into the classroom with incredible courage. Returning to school at 16 or 19 years old, many for the first time, without their families to motivate them while also carrying the exceedingly heavy burden of trauma, insecurity, statelessness, and fear, is extremely challenging. Coupled with this, many were sexually assaulted and are new mothers.

Many participants struggle with a myriad of hardships and learning challenges. Some girls were pulled out of primary school because of war, poverty, or gender discrimination; others never attended school. With such a gap in their education, these girls battle with their confidence and motivation on a daily basis. Some live with host families that don’t value education for girls and women; others have peers in the community who relay that if they commit to their education in Nairobi, they will stay refugees forever.

After a day, some weeks, or months at Heshima, most of these girls recognize their new community as the most stable and supportive influence in their lives. What makes our Girl’s Empowerment Project especially unique is that its’ designed to identify and respond to these challenges with sensitivity, flexibility, and understanding – core requirements for empowerment.

Zahra, a GEP participant and 17 year old refugee from Somalia said, “Life in Somalia was so hard for a girl because of education. They believed that you get married and have husbands, you don’t go to school. I believe I am a leader because I don’t have to be old to have my voice heard. It all depends on how much I believe and use my brain.”

Much of Heshima Kenya’s success and progress is due to the intensive and specialized support we provide to every girl we assist. Our progress throughout 2009 points to the 105 refugee children and young women supported in our programs: 11 had infants that accompanied them on their journey to Kenya; 9 were enrolled in formal schools; 8 were united with their families outside Kenya; 5 gave birth to healthy babies; and 18 enrolled in our vocational program.

During this past quarter, 10 girls, 1 teacher and the Girl’s Empowerment Project Youth Coordinator voluntarily underwent HIV testing. The process encouraged other participants to be tested and be informed of their status, and in response to this interest, another testing session will be planned in the near future. To build their critical thinking skills, girls also continued to develop their newsletter, Midnimo (Somali for unity). With the support of a newspaper journalist invited to speak to the girls about reporting skills, participants wrote articles about maternal health and how it has impacted their communities. They are currently preparing articles about w omens' leadership for the next edition and will be interviewing leaders within their communities. As a needed break during the week, participants are also playing football and volleyball in a nearby arboretum every Wednesday morning. To test their skills, they played a volleyball match against women of the University of Nairobi’s volleyball team. Participants also had an outing at the Kenyan National Museum.

We also recently launched the Maisha Collective as the final transitional component of the Girl’s Empowerment Project. The Collective will act as an economic springboard for graduates of our tailoring program where they will form a business collective to produce and sell a collection of tie and dye scarves. Participants will apply for positions and be accepted into the Collective by a committee of ‘employees’ and a project leader; they will learn to save their earnings and grow their skills as they transition into self-sufficiency. All profits are returned as wages to empower their success. Visit heshimakenya.org in early summer to learn how to support the project.

Join Heshima Kenya on facebook and twitter and learn about our daily activities and success! Thank you so much for your incredible support and we look forward to sharing more experiences with you.

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